Neorealism and sports comedy come together in the relevant and rousing “En el Séptimo Día” (“On the Seventh Day),” a low-budget pleaser about a Mexican immigrant, his everyday experiences and the soccer-related quandary he faces when his boss makes him work on his day off.
Writer-director Jim McKay, who made the indies “Girls Town” and “Our Song” prior to a lengthy career in television, returns to the big screen with this portrait of undocumented immigrants from Mexico’s Puebla state opening Friday at the Roxie in San Francisco.
Presented in neorealist mode (with entertaining departures), the film combines De Sica, Iranian cinema, Loach, the Dardennes, early Ramin Bahrani, and Hollywood sports flicks.
Brooklyn, in the summer of 2016, is the setting.
Jose (Fernando Cardona) and his pals, all from Puebla, live together in a cramped apartment and, Mondays through Saturdays, work at various jobs. Jose is a bicycle deliveryman for an upscale Mexican restaurant.
On Sundays, the guys play soccer at Sunset Park. Led by Jose, their winning team attracts a diverse assortment of fans.
Conflict arises when Jose’s boss (Christopher Gabriel Nunez) announces that, due to a special event, everyone must work on Sunday, the day of the soccer team’s finals game.
If he refuses to work, Jose, who intends to bring his pregnant wife from Mexico to New York, could get fired. At the same time, missing the game would feel like a betrayal of his teammates, who would lose the match without his participation.
To solve Jose’s dilemma, the soccer guys hatch a scheme.
McKay’s light, sunny directorial touch can prevent the movie from hitting as dramatically hard as a story about poverty, class divides and the constant threat of deportation perhaps should.
But as Jose pedals vigorously through the streets and interacts with a range of New Yorkers, McKay, who has worked in the world he depicts, captures the experiences of recent immigrants whose place in society seems a universe away from that of the people for whom they deliver lunches and mop floors.
While never directly referencing the hateful anti-immigrant sentiments of then-candidate Trump, the film is a nonpreachy condemnation of how government and society regard recent immigrants.
A receptionist speaks Spanish to Jose but shifts into English when men in suits walk by, for example.
The camaraderie shared by the guys is appealingly natural.
Action-wise, Jose’s bicycle trips are invigoratingly kinetic. During the sports-movie climax, McKay skillfully builds suspense within the neorealism.
Cardona, who, like his costars, never before acted professionally, carries the film with a nuanced performance that has quiet charisma. His face registers Jose’s constant state of worry along with an enduring hope for a bit of what’s left of the American dream.
Without rubbing it in, Cardona and McKay convince us the country needs more people like Jose, not fewer.
Mexican musician and poet Zenen Zeferino Huervo provides soulful closure.
En el Séptimo Dia (On the Seventh Day)
Starring: Fernando Cardona, Gilberto Jimenez, Abel Perez, Christopher Gabriel Nunez
Written and directed by: Jim McKay
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes